Two Poems

Michael Hofmann

Museum Piece

The room smells of semen. The leather curtain
that hangs in the doorway to keep the men
from the boys is now flapping like a ventilator ...
People crowd in to see the erotic drawings.
Yonis in close-up like a row of fingerprints.
– Hokusai’s hairfine precipice technique
applied to pubic hair. Fingers do the walking,
tiny feet wave in mid-air. His white ladies
groan under the weight of swollen members.
... The four estates of Japanese society –
fishermen, actors, courtesans and samurai –
mixing it. Following no useful calling,
anonymous in their nakedness, lovers clutch
each other. We might be watching ourselves,
dizzy men and women without designations ...
We jostle in the dark for a better view.

The Interviewer

‘You will have noticed the dissonance: my
common surname and pretentious Christian name –
the French and the Anglo-Saxon don’t mix well ...
But that’s not my fault. – Because I was young
and had problems, I decided to be an interviewer.
In the way that the unbalanced study psychology
(I had already tried that); murderers habilitate
themselves as family-butchers; the bald become
hairdressers. These are our modern Beatitudes ...
A kind of updated Saint-Simonianism, perhaps –
he proposed that everyone should follow their
natural inclinations in an accommodating society;
children, lovers of dirt, should be dustmen, etc.
Nowadays, there is a corrective trait included.
The thing is to turn one’s liabilities into assets
and shed their unpleasantness too – miracle of osmosis!
... As an interviewer, I hoped the prominence of
a tiny élite would rub off on me – or at least
its wisdom and experience of life. Having access
to film-makers, writers and opera-singers with all
their lofty problems, would take me out of myself
and teach me – in style. Still, I made a point of
treating them like equals; asking them pert and
familiar questions ... Their answers frightened me –
“Don’t you think your candour is damaging?” I’d ask.
To which they replied that there were many kinds
of honesty, before you could be said to be lying ...
I began without a tape-recorder, like a secretary
taking confession – straight to the boulevard papers.
Later, I was often admitted to their life-style,
but it was more than I could cope with. Migraine,
the affliction of the sensitive, made me retire
to my hotel bedroom ... While at other times,
it was my exclusion that was painful; these
artistic types, the arrogance of their gestures.
– Instead of an introduction, unbuttoning a shirt
to reveal a vest. No words. My vertiginous resentment.’